Talk to Maj. Kevin and Lt. Amy Cedervall, and it's easy to see the new commanders of Salvation Army of Alpena are very passionate about youths.
Both husband and wife will talk about the many successes they've seen in their combined 22 years as Salvation Army officers. They've witnessed how children in character-building and at-risk programs can change, and currently are working with many of the kids helped by their predecessors, Majs. Craig and Joan Stoker. They've been very busy throughout their first month in Alpena, and they're looking forward to making a difference.
"We want to be involved as much as possible," Amy said. "This is our community, and our big issue is no matter where we move, no matter where we serve, this is our community and the Salvation Army is part of that."
The two had to jump right in when they arrived on June 24 and immediately figure out their roles in the summer at-risk program, Amy said. Kids are enrolled on a referral basis, either through their school counselor or through Department of Human Services. The structured program seeks to help them with behavioral problems, teach them how to manage their anger and build their self-esteem. One way it accomplishes the latter is by teaching them things they might not have known they can learn.
As a side benefit, the kids in the at-risk program get a nutritious lunch and afternoon snack through the Salvation Army's summer lunch program, Kevin said. It helps to fill the meal gap some families experience when school lets out, and it's not just for at-risk program enrollees.
The Cedervalls come from two different backgrounds, Kevin being a fourth-generation Salvation Army officer and Amy a first-generation one. In fact, Amy wasn't involved in church at all when she was young, she said. She grew up in Lansing, and Kevin spent time in 24 states. He's been an officer for 18 years, and Amy an officer for four. They've known each other for about 15 years, and the two are raising Kevin's teenage son and daughter, both of whom were born to his late wife.
A Salvation Army officer always has a new task to learn, and that's something Kevin and Amy love about the job. The couple work well together, and they're wired to do whatever needs doing.
"It's never boring," Amy said. "Our faith part is, God called me to do this, God equipped us. There's a reason He called us. I've worked in regular jobs before I was an officer and I was always bored."
Kevin and Amy were last assigned to Jefferson City, Mo., and both said they love the small-town atmosphere. Rural areas often struggle with a lack of available resources and services, but Alpena folks are often willing to jump in and help those in need. They understand it's their neighbors who need clothes, food or help with utility bills. And in a small town, it's possible for the Cedervalls to get to know the people they're helping. They expect to be here for at least five years, and they're both thrilled and grateful for the welcome they've received.
Along with the Salvation Army's own programs, the Stokers were involved with numerous local organizations focused on child and family welfare. Kevin and Amy have had their hands full getting oriented with each one, and joke about the "alphabet soup" of acronyms for each group. They're both very grateful the Stokers laid the groundwork for collaborations between the groups.
"We're not a stand-alone, and that's important because we don't want to do everything," Kevin said. "The more we help other organizations, the more we can accomplish."
That's just what they're hoping to do. Being a Salvation Army officer has its challenges, especially that of dealing with generational poverty, they both said. It's not uncommon for them to meet a family who has known little else, and these can sometimes be the hardest families to help. Some might not know how to lift themselves out of the situation, while certain others are unwilling to change.
The Cedervalls said they also have seen how bad luck and economic hardships can turn formerly affluent families who donated to the Salvation Army into recipients of its services. In one case, Amy had to make the hard choice of whether to help a former executive make a large house payment. The woman couldn't sell, and did find a new job but wouldn't get paid in time to save her house. Amy opted to help the woman, who went on to donate her time and money.
"It's times when we know we've made a difference that makes all the headaches worthwhile," she said.